Sue Bostrom, former Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Cisco, joined Marketo’s Board of Directors in 2012. The headline of the press release read: “Experienced Marketing and Internet Visionary to Support Revenue Performance Management Leader’s Explosive Growth.”
Sue is one of the most influential women of her generation and has paved the way for many women in the industry. To earn the title ‘marketing and internet visionary’ is quite impressive; particularly for a woman who grew up the daughter of a farmer in suburban Chicago; whose parents only had a high school education. It’s no surprise that labels have never been something Sue paid much attention to. In fact, she encourages women in business steer clear of them.
“I was a first generation college graduate but no one in my family ever thought about it that way,” explains Sue. “There will be times in your life when you're given opportunity. You have two choices: embrace it with all the risks associated with it or move back into your comfort zone. My philosophy has been to run into the opportunity head on and see what happens.”
If you have ever had the pleasure to hear Sue speak on a panel or at a conference (click here to read how she was able to overcome the glass ceiling in her Keynote Speech at Marketo’s Summit in 2012) she has the ability to immediately make you feel at ease, the way you would if you were speaking with an old friend. Her genuine demeanor makes her relatable and likable. She combines wit and humor with passion, experience, credibility, and most importantly, confidence, which is not something that comes easily to most.
You’ve most likely heard the statistic “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” (Mohr, 2014) I immediately thought of several instances when I didn’t bother applying for a job for that exact reason. I’ve had the opportunity to hear some amazing (and high profile) female leaders speak at our Marketing Nation Summit including Sue in 2012, and their messages have made a big impact on me and my confidence.
When asked how she has approached confidence in her career, Sue’s response was classic.
“I think to myself, ‘How would a guy approach this?’ Because they are usually more direct and ask for what they want or need” she said. “I figure the worst thing someone can do is tell me ‘no’ and I can survive that.”
She went on to give her advice about how women can advocate for themselves. “Be your own harshest critic when evaluating your performance, while also being your biggest fan,” she said. “That's where you gain confidence. When you're armed with that assessment, it's a matter of being direct and asking for what you need. That will make you feel valued, confident and motivated to do a good job.”
Besides learning how to be more self-aware, Sue attributes her confidence and success to her biggest role model, her mom, who unfortunately passed away when Sue was 20. She uses heroism to describe her.
“There were so many things about the way my mom led her life that have contributed to my ability to push myself to try to be great. She was a risk taker in her own way, she would take on controversial causes, advocate for equality…it had a huge impact on me.”
Sue’s mom wasn’t well traveled and spent most of her life in Chicago where she worked full time as an executive assistant while Sue was growing up. But that didn’t matter. She was always the member of their large, extended family who fought for what she believed in, whether that be voting for Kennedy while everyone else was supporting Nixon, or by opening her daughters’ eyes to racism at a time when this was rare.
“Never assume you aren't making a difference to the people you interact with,” Sue explained. “My mom’s ability to mold me the way she did in such a short period of time made me realize that.”
It is obvious from Sue’s laundry list of accolades, including making Fortune Magazine’s “5o Most Powerful Women in Business” in 2000, that she has not let hardships or risk of failure stand in her way. If anything, she seems to be motivated by them.
When she was accepted into Stanford Business School her dad had her uncle call her to discourage her from going. “Beware, sometimes the people that love you the most may discourage you the most…just because they are trying to protect you,” she said.
She attended Stanford anyway. Years later she found out her uncle’s concern wasn’t that she wasn’t capable, but that he had heard that Northwestern MBAs weren’t able to find jobs at the time, and he was also concerned about whether women would truly be accepted in the business world. He didn’t want to see her fail.
Her uncle now has a scrapbook of all her accomplishments and article clippings, which I can only imagine is the size of a dictionary.
With all of her success and notoriety in the technology industry, Sue still makes time to relax and enjoy the simpler things in life. As you can see from her LinkedIn she sits on several boards other than Marketo, including RocketFuel, ServiceNow, Varian Medical Systems and Cadence Design Systems. When asked what she does to relax and take a break from work she said, “There's nothing better than helping someone else to take you away from any troubles in your own life.”
She really enjoys her work with non-profit organizations like Stanford Children’s Hospital. She also loves immersing herself in what her kids are doing and helping them in their careers.
When she’s not reading the Wall Street Journal (hard copy preferred) to stay up on the latest and greatest in business or her personal favorite, autobiographies, Sue enjoys running, walking her dog, doing needlework, and most recently she and her husband are into Soul Cycle.
Sue has made it seem easy to have it all. Graduating from one of the most challenging business schools in the country, climbing her way up the corporate ladder to Executive Vice President and CMO of a $139 billion dollar company, having three kids and staying happily married for over 30 years -- all while maintaining a sense of humor, life balance, and being down-to-earth. My biggest takeaway from speaking with Sue is to never assume you aren’t capable of doing something because anything is possible.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on any of the topics discussed in this blog and I look forward to hearing from you!